Ruston’s senior-laden 2014 defensive line left an example for the next crop of starters, leading a Bearcats defense that held opponents to less than 13 points per game in its final four games.
That up-front unit is simply a memory now. The Bearcats lost their top five players from that unit, in addition to heavy losses at wide receiver, and are looking for the next men up with just two weeks separating them from the season opener at Neville.
“Especially with the defensive line, because that’s very important to the development of the defense as a whole,” Ruston coach Brad Laird said. “I think we have some key components in other spots in the defense, but it starts on the defensive line.”
Laird went into last week expecting the scrimmage against Byrd to play a big factor in his thoughts on the position group, but did notice a couple of players before then.
“(The scrimmage against Byrd is) a test of what we need on both sides of the ball, but especially on the defensive end because they’re going to come off the ball and hit you hard,” Laird said. “That’s what you want to go against and they do a great job of it offensively.
“At defensive end, we’re still looking or guys to step up, but Tahj Samuels is one that I would say has been more consistent at defensive end than anybody else. At defensive tackle, probably Courtney Mamon has been the most consistent. Have they separated themselves? I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but they’ve been more consistent in doing what we ask them to do and they do what they do with a high motor.”
Whoever the Bearcats settle with on the defensive line, Laird knows they will be quicker than the average defensive line with plans to utilize that.
“There will be times we get them moving and get them active, but not necessarily that much over the next couple of weeks,” Laird said. “We want to see them play base and how they react to that and then we’ll decide if that’s what we need to do. We’ve done that anyway with our inside guys, to move them around, and that won’t be new.”
Wide receiver is Ruston’s other position of mass change, and multiple kinds of change, too. Jeremy Brown is the lone familiar face in the position group after starting as a tight end/H-Back last season.
“He’s new to the position, he’s not new to playing time,” Laird said. “That’s one thing, he’s got the experience from playing at tight end and H-Back.”
Laird credited his offensive coordinator Jerrod Baugh, in his first season at Ruston, with the idea for moving Brown’s big frame to the perimeter.
“We were looking for that big threat outside and he has gotten faster this spring and summer,” Laird said. “He’s working harder now in camp than he was in the spring and summer, and that’s that senior leadership you’re looking for.
“It was Coach Baugh’s idea and he proved to be right.”
Brown said his transition has gone well thus far largely in part to another new portion of the wide receiver group: the position coach. Kenny Bell is in his first season as Ruston’s wide receiver coach after serving in the same position at Wossman. Bell is a former Rayville standout as a player that went on to be a part of three national championship teams at Alabama: 2009 in his redshirt season before playing consistently for the 2011 and 2012 teams.
“I have to be a role model because they’re looking up to the starters. I just go off of what coach says because he’s been there and done it all,” Brown said.
Bell has also made an immediate impact on the multiple wide receivers entering the season with little to no varsity experience.
“Coach Kenny Bell has done a great job with the development of those guys that do not have a lot of playing time: Carlos Hunt, Etoryun Mitchell, Marquez Corprue, Zavier Cooper,” Laird said. “I think we have some potential there, it’s just a matter of getting the live reps out there that they need.
“You may have the set ones that start each week, but I think we’ll be able to have two or three that roll in and provide depth at that position.”
Connect with Brett on Twitter, @BHudsonTNS.